ALA, COSLA help libraries LEAP ahead and increase broadband capacity

For Immediate Release
Mon, 10/19/2015


Nancy Gravatt
Press Officer
ALA Washington Office

Washington, D.C. – The launch of a new phase of the federally-funded E-rate reform program aimed at improving broadband capacity to serve community education and learning needs was announced today by the American Library Association (ALA)and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA).  The Library E-rate Assessment Planning (LEAP) project is a two-year initiative that will target five pilot states to develop strategies to increase broadband capacity to local libraries in each state and to increase participation in the E-rate program overall. LEAP states are Alaska, California, Iowa, Kentucky, and North Dakota.

“Nearly one year ago Federal Communications Commission Chairman (FCC) Tom Wheeler challenged libraries (and schools) to use a newly modernized and fully funded E-rate program,” ALA President Sari Feldman, said. “In response, ALA and COSLA undertook significant work with their members to expand access to broadband capacity and fulfill the promise of E-rate reform, particularly for those libraries that most lag behind bandwidth benchmarks.”   The median internet speed for US rural libraries is 10 Mbps, and 15% of rural libraries have speeds of 1.5Mbps or less.

“This is an exciting next step in a long partnership between state library agencies and ALA to strengthen the ability of our public libraries to ensure no one is left stranded on the Information Highway,” Kendall Wiggin, COSLA President and Connecticut State Librarian, said. “More than ever, E-rate powers digital learning and empowerment.”

States were selected based on criteria that included state-level commitment to increasing broad-band capacity among libraries across the state and state and local conditions that will contribute to creative solutions replicable in other states. States are encouraged to explore the full variety of broadband solutions that may exist in their respective states. Specifically LEAP states will:

  • Develop a broadband capacity vision and set of goals for their state;
  • Develop a baseline assessment to identify barriers to increasing broadband capacity;
  • Address the broadband capacity gap among libraries in their states, focused on reaching the benchmarks adopted by the Commission;
  • Develop tools for local libraries to successfully participate in the E-rate program; and
  • Document the impact of the strategies on local library broadband capacity.

The premise of the LEAP project is based on a quiet paragraph in the Commission’s Second E-rate Modernization Order that called on USAC (the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the E-rate program) to work with existing state-level entities to provide technical support and develop best practices to assist those applicants whose lack of such expertise is a barrier to full participation in the E-rate program. ALA and COSLA worked with FCC and USAC staff to identify gaps in services to libraries. Together, the organizations developed priorities related to fiber deployment and other available services to help low-bandwidth libraries make significant progress toward broadband benchmarks.

The modernization proceeding established capacity goals for libraries of at least 100 Mbps for libraries serving communities under 50,000 and 1 Gbps for those over 50,000. It also resulted in a permanent addition of $1.5 billion for increasing broadband capacity to libraries and schools and an annual $1 billion target through 2019 to fund wi-fi within buildings. Central to the LEAP project, the Commission also addressed the rural fiber gap by focusing on reducing costs for broadband deployment and creating more options for E-rate applicants to develop broadband solutions to meet current and future needs. Fifteen percent of rural libraries still have subscribed download speeds of 1.5 Mbps or less, and 61% have 10Mbps or less connectivity. Overall 82 percent of libraries (and 96% of rural libraries) fall below 100 Mbps broadband capacity.

“USAC is integral to the success of the LEAP Project,” Marijke Visser, associate director of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, said. “We deeply appreciate USAC’s commitment to advancing library capacity for community learning. USAC will work closely with the LEAP Advisory Group to determine and implement an outreach strategy appropriate to the five LEAP states in addition to the support USAC already provides to all E-rate applicants. LEAP state strategies will be scaled to benefit libraries across the nation.”

Broadband is no longer a nice-to-have service. It is as essential as other public utilities. Libraries equipped with high-capacity broadband help people transcend geographical, economic, and educational boundaries that can exclude so many from digital opportunity. Whether it is a high school student creating a digital portfolio for a college application; a parent communicating with her child’s teacher; a worker completing an online certification course; a grandparent looking at pictures of a grandchild on Facebook; or a family Skyping with a loved one stationed overseas, library broadband is a game changer. These examples can be common place through efforts like the LEAP project.

Throughout the 2013-14 modernization proceeding ALA advocated with the Commission and library partners to address the vital need for available and affordable high-capacity broadband.

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 55,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.